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Latest on COVID-19 in MN: Walz to let stay-at-home order expire, keep key restrictions

May 13, 2020 06:48PM ● By Editor
Gov. Tim Walz answers questions while holding his mask at a press conference inside the Department of Public Safety in St. Paul on April 30, 2020.  Photo: MPR

From Minnesota Public Radio News - May 14, 2020

Minnesota is poised to enter a new stage of the coronavirus pandemic — one that’s less aggressive on containing the virus. 

Gov. Tim Walz is letting his stay-at-home order expire on Sunday night, rather than adding on more time to slow transmission of COVID-19. Beginning Monday, retail businesses will be allowed to reopen with limited capacity and group gatherings of 10 or fewer people, including at places of worship, will be permitted once again. 

The governor made the announcement in a broadcast address to the state Wednesday night. After the speech, he conceded to reporters that his moves were something of a gamble on human behavior and on the virus not spreading too aggressively. 

“This is either going to work or not work,” Walz said. “People are either going to stay out of the hospital or get in it."

Restrictions on restaurants, bars, theaters, bowling alleys and venues that attract large crowds will remain, however. 

"We’re not flipping a switch and everything’s going back to normal at once,” Walz said in his address.

The DFL governor won’t permit restaurants to legally resume dine-in service for now, keeping them takeout-only. He said he’s instructed his agencies to assemble a plan over the next week for a "limited and safe" reopening of bars, restaurants and other places of public accommodation June 1.

When they do come back, those establishments are likely to face capacity limits. Walz also said he signed an executive order ensuring that people can raise safety concerns about their workplaces without discrimination or retaliation.

It’s a similar situation for hair salons and barber shops, gyms and other currently restricted activities that haven’t been able to serve customers since March. Salons and barbershops are allowed to sell products for curbside pickup but aren’t allowed to provide services in-shop.

There were a few other noteworthy changes for what would be allowed, assuming people follow the distance and gathering rules:

  • Families are allowed overnight camping at a single campsite, not in a developed campground. Private and public developed campgrounds remain closed to recreational camping." Summer day camps are allowed but not overnight camps.

  • Small one-on-one or one-on-two person guided and instructional activities such as guided fishing, birding, or outdoor fitness training can resume.

  • Outdoor tournaments, competitions, practices, and sports that allow for social distance.

During his Wednesday evening address, Walz praised Minnesotans for toughing it out the past two months, saying the stay-home order keeping Minnesotans from congregating in crowded public places had helped check the spread of the disease, saved thousands of lives and bought Minnesota time to secure needed health care supplies and prepare for a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

He acknowledged that the move had cost tens of thousands of Minnesotans their jobs as retail, hospitality and other sectors shut down.

Even as he announced the end of the stay-at-home order, he pleaded with Minnesotans to stay smart about being safe. He said he was counting on people to work from home if possible, wear masks out, stay 6 feet from others even when you’re in groups of 10 or fewer and get tested if you show symptoms of COVID-19.

"We are still in the heart of this pandemic and this can go in a bad direction quickly,” he said. The goal, he added, was to keep the spread of the disease to a simmer and not a boil.

However, the easing of restrictions doesn't mean COVID-19 is slowing down at all. Here are the latest statistics:

  • 12,917 confirmed cases via 122,035 tests

  • 638 deaths

  • 1,851 cases requiring hospitalization

  • 494 people remain hospitalized; 199 in intensive care

  • 8,787 patients recovered

Also on Wednesday, health officials began noting probable COVID-19 deaths, where the disease was listed as the cause of death but a positive test wasn’t documented.

New modeling, new approach to coronavirus

Walz’s shift in approach also comes as state health officials released new modeling that showed only modest differences in potential deaths if the stay-at-home mandate was stretched out for two more weeks. 

It found that social distancing and similar mitigation hadn’t been as effective at curbing infection as once thought.

Since March, Walz has issued a series of executive actions that disrupted daily life, closed school buildings for the year and led to a surge in unemployment. The goal was to push off a COVID-19 peak until hospitals could stock up on protective gear and stage for a growth in intensive care beds.

Republicans have increasingly lashed out at what they see as a go-it-alone-approach by Walz. On a day in which he was set to extend his peacetime emergency declaration — the foundation for his other response measures — a Senate committee backed a bill to change how future emergencies are handled. 

The Legislature would have greater control to dictate the length of such an order.

“I’m not saying Gov. Walz is a king,” said Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, said before Walz’s 6 p.m. address. “But I am saying that we as a legislative body must have our power, our authority. We are not just a rubber stamp for whatever the governor or whatever the executive branch wants to do.”

Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, dismissed the bill as a partisan play given that Senate leaders and the governor are of competing parties.

“We’re involved in a very, very serious crisis and what we don’t need to do is add politics to it,” Carlson said.

Osmek responded that he would be pushing the bill even if a Republican governor was in office.

Walz late Wednesday signed an order to stretch the peacetime emergency authority out through June 12.

Developments from around the state

Pilgrim's Pride plant implements measures to curb virus spread after outbreak

Pilgrim's Pride has taken steps to protect workers at its plant in Cold Spring in central Minnesota, a company representative told the City Council Tuesday. 

The Pilgrim's Pride plant is one of two poultry processing facilities in Stearns County experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak. 

Manager Wesley Smith said the plant is testing workers' temperatures and screening them before they enter. It's requiring workers to wear masks and staggering start times and breaks to promote social distancing, among other safety measures.

Advocates say actions weren't taken soon enough before many workers got sick.

Natalie Ringsmuth, executive director of the nonprofit UniteCloud, told the council the plant should be closed for two weeks for cleaning.

"We are in an emergency, and we need you as community leaders to join with us and understand your role in helping to ensure that everyone in our community is safe,” Ringsmuth said.

Stearns County now has more than 1,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

— Kirsti Marohn | MPR News

Top headlines

Frustration and uncertainty as workers wait on unemployment pay: As demand for unemployment benefits has skyrocketed, some Minnesota workers are anxiously awaiting news of whether they’ll receive benefits from the state.

COVID-19 in Minnesota

Health officials for weeks have been increasingly raising the alarm over the spread of the novel coronavirus in the United States. The disease is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.

Government and medical leaders are urging people to wash their hands frequently and well, refrain from touching their faces, cover their coughs, disinfect surfaces and avoid large crowds, all in an effort to curb the virus’ rapid spread.

The state of Minnesota has temporarily closed schools, while administrators work to determine next steps, and is requiring a temporary closure of all in-person dining at restaurants, bars and coffee shops, as well as theaters, gyms, yoga studios and other spaces in which people congregate in close proximity.

To read the original story and see related COVID-19 reporting, follow the slink to the MPR News website.

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